We’re three episodes into season nine of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. The first two episodes played to the series’ strong suits — with deep dives into the Hispanic culture of Los Angeles, and the eclectic food wonderland of San Sebastian, Spain. This week we found Bourdain exploring the rich, diverse culture of Laos.
In standard Bourdain fashion, we got a vivid glimpse into what makes Laos so special, paired with a sobering reminder of the nation’s history. It was here that the United States ran one of its longest (known) secret wars. During the conflict’s height — between 1964 and 1973 — we dropped 260 million bombs on the tiny Southeast Asian nation.
Bourdain lays it out in his narration:
“From the late 1950s until the last days of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, CIA intelligence and paramilitary officers worked from remote mountain villages and secret airstrips throughout Laos, recruiting and training Hmong tribesmen to fight the North Vietnamese, and the Laotian Pathet Lao, as well as controlling a vast secret air war. The undeclared and largely unknown war on this tiny Southeast Asian nation continued for nearly two decades—and in the end, more high explosives had been dropped on the country than on Germany and Japan during all of World War II.”
The horrific legacy of our bombardment left a country that’s a little smaller than California with 78 million unexploded ordinances. That negligence has led to 20,000 additional casualties since the end of this secret war. It’s a menace the Laotian people live with to this day.
Of course, this episode wasn’t only about destruction. It was also about new beginnings paired with a rich history — which made for some great meals, plenty of Beerlao, and markets full of wonderful and exotic foods to marvel over.